As a member of the Wallflowers, Michael Ward wrote guitar parts and played with the band onstage and in the studio, and for at least the past year, he did so against his better judgment.
This week Ward announced his departure from the band on his Web site, but he originally wanted to quit well before the group’s last world tour.
“About a year ago I quit the band and then was persuaded into staying by our manager, Andy Slater,” Ward revealed over the phone Thursday (October 11). “So I stayed through the whole Breach tour.”
Then last week he was given his walking papers. The rift between Ward and the Wallflowers mostly stemmed from frontman Jakob Dylan’s absolute control over the group, he said.
“For me, what music is all about is sitting down and creating songs from scratch. That’s my life, and it’s not really about adding guitar parts to someone else’s music. That’s not really satisfying for me. For a long time we were writing together, and then that stopped, and that made me pretty unhappy.”
A Wallflowers spokesperson had no comment on Ward’s remarks.
In addition to his disinterest in being a hired hand, Ward said he was becoming increasingly less enchanted with the direction of the band.
“The Wallflowers’ American rock thing was always a little stylistically confining for me,” he said. “My thing is a little more dark, moody and edgy.”
Plus, he said, the Wallflowers discouraged him from playing with other musicians. Over the years, Ward has played with John Hiatt, appeared on records by Fastball, John Doe, Shawn Mullins and Josh Freese, and formed his own band, Tiny Buddy. As his dissatisfaction grew, Ward began spending less time with his bandmates.
“A couple years ago they printed up guitar picks for me that said, ’The lone wolf.’ That kind of went from being a joke to being a drag. … The division between me and the rest of them was getting pretty wide in all ways.”
It became increasingly clear that things weren’t working out during the Wallflowers’ recent tour opening for John Mellencamp. His bandmates were concentrating intently on recording new songs backstage every day, but Ward was more than a bit preoccupied.
“It was interfering with my bicycle riding on a daily basis,” he said with a laugh. “It’s just tough for me to commit my life to working on someone else’s songs and not do my own stuff. It’s too stifling. Jakob is great at what he does, and power to him, but it just isn’t my thing.”
Ward first worked with the Wallflowers in 1996 when producer T Bone Burnett invited him to record guitar parts and background vocals for the band’s second disc, Bringing Down the Horse. He joined the band soon after. Before playing with the Wallflowers, Ward co-founded the band School of Fish, which had a minor hit in 1991 with the song “3 Strange Days.”
The Wallflowers are finished touring but have a charity concert scheduled on October 17 in Seattle at the Experience Music Project. Multi-instrumentalist Ben Peeler is expected to replace Ward for the show, a band spokesperson said.